Vassalboro selectmen to meet Thursday, April 15, 2021

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, in person in the Vassalboro Community School gymnasium. Their agenda includes three main items:

  • Review of warrant articles for the June 7 and June 8 annual town meeting;
  • Report on discussion with the state Department of Transportation about a proposed Municipal Partnership Initiative Agreement for a paving and sidewalk project in North Vassalboro; and
  • An update by board Chairman John Melrose on a land use agreement with Kennebec Water District.

Vassalboro school board approves first reading of school budget

Vassalboro Community School (contributed photo)

Budget totals over $8.3 million

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members approved the first reading of their 2021-22 budget April 6, half an hour before they were scheduled to discuss it with the town budget committee.

The budget totals over $8.3 million. The increase in expenditures is over $330,000, or more than four percent.

However, changes in non-tax revenues mean the increase to Vassalboro taxpayers will be about $81,000. School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur calculated $81,000 represents about one-fourth of a mil, or about 25 cents more in taxes for each $1,000 of property valuation.

Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer and Finance Director Paula Pooler emphasized how easily the budget can change. For example, after the March 30, school board meeting, they subtracted two students from the tuition account, because they will attend Maine charter schools. Charter school tuition goes directly to the school, Pfeiffer explained.

He then added that as of April 6, two new high school students had moved to Vassalboro; their tuition will add about $23,000 to the expenditure side of the budget.

The proposed budget asks voters to transfer $80,000 from surplus to help cover expenditures. The request for the current year was $70,000.

Part of the April 6 discussion focused on whether those withdrawals would leave a healthy-enough surplus. Pooler said she does not yet know whether this year’s expenses will require using any part of the $70,000; she is cautiously optimistic that it will not be spent.

She believes the surplus account will be adequate with the proposed $80,000 transferred out.

After the school board meeting adjourned, budget committee members joined virtually for a joint budget review.

Discussion of possible funding to repave and expand the parking lot led veteran planning board member Douglas Phillips to recommend talking with the Department of Environmental Protection about possible limits on additional impervious surfaces.

Budget committee members met in person two nights later, Thursday, April 8, to decide what more they needed to know about the 2021-22 school budget before they met again with the school board on Tuesday, April 13.

Their main immediate issues were what the school board could legally use federal Covid relief funds for and whether the already-low increase in local taxes could be eliminated.

Longer-range, budget committee members seconded Chairman Rick Denico’s hope that in the future, they could get school budget information earlier. Denico suggested a discussion with school board members over the summer.

On Tuesday, April 13, school board members were scheduled to hold their regular monthly meeting, followed by a joint meeting with the budget committee.

Vassalboro planners look at potential fourth solar development

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members listened to preliminary plans for what might become the town’s fourth commercial solar development, this one on Webber Pond Road. No action was expected and none was taken.

Bill French, from Illinois, Regional Director of Project Development for Sunvest Solar, based in Pewaukee, Wisconsin (“outside Milwaukee,” French explained), presented the proposal virtually.

He expects to have an application ready for review at the June planning board meeting. Depending on progress in negotiations with Central Maine Power Company and other factors, building might start in 2021, but a 2022 start date is more likely.

French said the solar panels will occupy 18.64 acres of a 34.4-acre parcel on the east side of Webber Pond Road, not far south off the Bog Road intersection. Sunvest is leasing the lot from David and Jennifer Jones on a 25-year lease, with two five-year extensions possible.

The panels will be in two sections, with an east-west line of trees between them left standing. Light-absorbing, non-glare solar panels, six or seven feet tall, will rotate to follow the sun. Because the land slopes gradually, no grading is needed.

Sunvest plans to plant native plants, especially flowering ones that will attract bees and other pollinators, under the panels and to mow the area once or twice a year. French said he intends to consult local people on appropriate plants for central Maine.

The project will have no buildings and no outside lighting. There will be little traffic, maybe one or two inspections a month and maintenance work a couple times a year.

Sunvest plans an eight-foot fence around the installation, French said. Planning Board Chairman Virginia Brackett mentioned the deer fence, rather than chainlink, proposed for a pending installation on Cemetery Street and asked about leaving holes near the bottom to allow small animals to go in and out.

In response to other board members’ comments and queries, French said he will find out what state permits he needs, perhaps from the Department of Environmental Protection or the Department of Transportation, and will work with town officials to provide a mutually satisfactory decommissioning plan.

The panels should be useful for at least 25 years, perhaps longer, he said. The 2.75-megawatt project will generate enough electricity to power 550 homes.

Vassalboro planners have previously approved two solar projects, one on Riverside Drive (Route 201) and one on Main Street (Route 32) between East and North Vassalboro. An application for a third on Cemetery Street will probably be on the May 4 planning board agenda.

Board members had three other applications on their April 6 agenda. According to Brackett, they:

  • Approved an amendment to the Stone Road subdivision allowing two lots to be combined;
  • Approved expansion of a deck at 201 Tilton Lane, in the Webber Pond shoreland zone; and
  • Approved Elizabeth Austin’s planned juice bar on Main Street, in North Vassalboro.
    Codes Officer Paul Mitnik, who is retiring for the third time, said former Codes Officer Richard Dolby will be his successor, taking over for the May 4 meeting.

Town of Vassalboro 250th Anniversary Commemoration

Vassalboro Historical Society

The town of Vassalboro will begin the celebration of the town’s 250th anniversary on Monday, April 26, 10:30 a.m., at the Monument Park re-dedication. The schedule follows:

Opening Ceremony

  • American Legion Post 126 Chaplain prayer – James Kilbride;
  • Perspectives on 1771, Patsy Crockett, President, Kennebec Historical Society;
  • Monument Park, historical focal point, Jan Clowes, President, Vassalboro Historical Society;
  • The names on the monument, Lauchlin Titus, Vassalboro civic leader;
  • Recognition of Monument Park restoration work, John Melrose, Vassalboro Select Board Chairman.

Monument Park and the Vassalboro Historical Society, is located on Route 32, East Vassalboro. There will be a 100 person open air Covid limit. Masks are required.

Vassalboro selectmen, school committee suggest compactor supplement at transfer station

by Mary Grow

The transfer station was again the major topic as Vassalboro selectmen and budget committee members met sequentially at Vassalboro Community School the evening of April 1. The two boards seem to have reached agreement on a recommendation to voters at the June 7 town meeting

John Melrose, chairman of the selectboard, had condensed earlier discussions into a two-part recommendation. Phase one, to be done in 2021-22 if voters consent, involves buying and installing a new compactor that would supplement, not replace, the old one.

When selectmen and Road Foreman Eugene Field toured the transfer station the morning of March 24, Field pointed out that it was designed to have two compactors.

The second compactor Melrose sees going where open-top containers are now located, close to the current compactor. His plan includes the update to the electrical system that board members earlier agreed was essential.

Melrose recommends adding a hopper, a variable frequency drive, controls and a shelter for the second compactor. His proposal includes security alarms and gates and relocating the control building.

His estimated cost for the work came to $117,500. Reserve funds will cover about $95,000 of the total. Melrose recommended transferring $85,000 from surplus (formally called undesignated fund balance), with the hope that overfunding will give next year’s selectboard leeway to expand the project.

One suggestion he relayed from Field was to consider buying a skid steer instead of replacing the backhoe. The backhoe is used to compress materials in the open-top containers; the new compactor would minimize use of open-tops; and a more versatile skid steer should be more useful.

If the next selectboard chooses to do nothing more at the transfer station, the extra money can be put back into surplus. Selectmen and budget committee members agreed that the town’s surplus account is large enough to stand the withdrawal.

Town Manager Mary Sabins had prepared a revised budget sheet and revised town meeting warrant articles to match Melrose’s proposal. Selectmen and budget committee members supported them.

Budget committee members also supported selectmen’s recommendations on all other warrant articles for which firm figures were available April 1. They planned to meet next on April 6 with the school board.

In other business at the selectboard meeting, board members unanimously awarded two bids.

They sold the old fire truck to the highest of four bidders, Asian Auto Services, of Plaistow, New Hampshire, for $3,632.12. Firefighter Michael Vashon said the truck was sold “as is, where is”; he expects someone from New Hampshire to come and get it. Sabins said proceeds will go into the fire truck reserve fund.

For installing a new boiler at the North Vassalboro fire station, selectmen chose the lowest of three bids, $17,250 from Houle’s Plumbing and Heating, of Waterville, provided the price will hold and the company will wait for payment until the new fiscal year begins July 1.

After speaking with a Houle’s representative April 5, Sabins emailed that the company will buy the boiler right away, before any price increase, and will not expect the first town payment until July 1. The second payment will be due when installation starts and the final payment when the job is satisfactorily completed.

Should town meeting voters decide not to buy the boiler, Vassalboro will pay Houle’s a restocking fee, the manager wrote.

The selectmen also signed Sabins’ three-year contract renewal.

After the April 6 meeting, budget committee meetings are also scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday, April 8, and Tuesday, April 13. The next selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 15; the agenda is supposed to include final review of the June 7 and 8 town meeting warrant. All meetings are currently scheduled to be held in person at Vassalboro Community School.

Vassalboro school board fails to finalize budget proposal

Vassalboro Community School (contributed photo)

by Mary Grow

Meeting March 30, Vassalboro School Board members were still unable to come up with a final 2021-22 budget proposal. They intended to try again Tuesday evening, April 6.

Part of the hold-up was external, including lack of information on what Vassalboro can expect from new federal pandemic money and what restrictions will be put on spending it. Pfeiffer is clear that the federal money cannot be used to replace existing budget items; it is to be used for future oriented projects, he and Finance Director Paula Pooler agreed.

Vassalboro and other schools used some of the last round of federal money to buy new buses that otherwise would have been in future budgets. One question Pfeiffer and Pooler raised is whether federal money could repave the school parking lot, a project that is no longer in the board’s draft budget.

Another unknown as of March 30 was the 2021-22 increase in insurance costs. Pooler said she hoped to have a firm figure by April 5.

Yet another external issue that comes up every year is how much Vassalboro will owe for high-school tuition for the full fiscal year. Every year the state sets the next year’s tuition rate in December. Every year Vassalboro administrators try to determine how many students will be in high school and which of the schools allowed by Vassalboro’s school choice policy each student will choose; and to guestimate how much tuition rates will increase in December.

The major internal factor still in doubt was the special education budget, which Special Education Director Tanya Thibeau was adjusting as she accounted for expected needs.

In addition to the budget discussion, board members agreed on a schedule for April that includes going back to five-day-a-week in-school classes beginning April 8 and continuing after spring vacation week (April 19 through 23) “unless things go crazy,” Pfeiffer said.

Because of the vacation week, the April regular Vassalboro board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Tuesday, April 13, instead of the usual third Tuesday of the month.

VASSALBORO: Road complaints bring action by selectmen

by Mary Grow

VASSALBORO – With roads unusually rough this spring, Vassalboro residents have complained, frequently and loudly.

Vassalboro selectmen have listened, sympathized and come up with a solution: a municipal helicopter service, tentatively named the Vass Fly.

The public works crew is surveying the town for a dozen or more helipad sites, probably including the town office lawn and the recreation fields. Selectmen are negotiating long-term leases on two dozen choppers and arranging to train public works employees as pilots and helicopter mechanics.

A Selectboard member reported that five residents with the necessary licenses have volunteered as pilots pending longer-term arrangements. Selectmen have asked the National Guard for help, once Guard members are done staffing vaccination clinics.

Among road complaints selectmen and town office staff reported receiving:

A man spent a night in the emergency room after a bump threw him through the roof of his car. He has a concussion and sprained wrists, and can’t drive his car in the rain until the head-sized hole is patched.
An eleven-year-old girl’s laptop is still lost in the puckerbrush after a violent jolt ripped it from her hands and threw it out the window of her father’s truck.
Three residents are looking for new vehicles after the bottoms of two pick-ups and a Hummer were torn out when the wheels settled into deep grooves in the pavement. “That was my 2021 Ram – still had the temporary plates,” one man mourned.
A series of heaves and dips threw a car off the road and over a stone wall into an orchard, where it damaged two Cortland trees. The driver admitted he should have known better than to go as fast as 25 miles an hour on that particular stretch.
A couple complained that they could not access their driveway, which is near the top of a steep hill. Every time they slowed to turn in, either a trough in the pavement deflected the wheels and they missed the driveway, or a bump sent them back down the hill.
A woman was carrying her damaged mailbox, which had been struck by a car whose driver was avoiding a pothole, when she stumbled and dropped the mailbox into the pothole. Her garden rake was not long enough to retrieve it.

One day, a selectman related, a town public works truck got hung up on a bump, all four wheels off the ground. Selectmen ordered the road closed, so the town crew put concrete Jersey barriers at each end.

“Made no difference,” the selectman said. “People drove right over the barriers without noticing them, they’re so used to bouncing up and down.”

Selectmen expect a whirlybird update at their April 1 meeting.


APRIL FOOL if you believed this.



Vassalboro planning board meets

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members have four applications on the agenda for their Tuesday, April 6, meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. The meeting will be virtual; it will be available for simultaneous viewing on the website

The applications, in order, are:

  • From Kelley Gooldrup, to combine lots 9 and 10 in the Stone Road subdivision;
  • From Jack’s Place Too, LLC, to expand a deck at 201 Tilton Lane, in the Webber Pond shoreland zone;
  • From Elizabeth Austin to open a juice bar at 913 Main Street, in North Vassalboro; and
  • From Sunvest Solar, Inc., to build a solar facility on David and Jennifer Jones’ land on Webber Pond Road.

Sunvest Solar is presenting a pre-application; company representatives will explain the proposed project, but no decisions are expected.

Vassalboro has two approved commercial solar projects, ReVision Energy’s, on Route 32, and Longroad Energy’s, on Riverside Drive. Another application, from Sebago Technics for a property off Cemetery Street, is pending.

China broadband committee not yet committed to Axiom; discussions amicable

by Mary Grow

China Broadband Committee (CBC) members had an amicable March 18 zoom discussion with Mark Ouellette, president of Machias-based Axiom Technologies, their currently preferred choice for improved broadband service in China.

Committee members reviewed proposals from Axiom and two other companies before deciding to talk first with Axiom. They made it clear that they are not yet committed to contracting with Axiom.

Their goal is broadband service that will serve every household and business in town, including those not currently served; that will be stronger and more reliable at all times than services now available; that will easily adapt to future technologies; and that will cover the estimated $6 to $7 million installation cost, plus maintenance, without enormous bills for either subscribers or taxpayers.

Ouellette thinks his company can deliver. He thinks reliability is more important than price, within reason: “People want to be sure they can do what they want to do 24/7.” Axiom would provide bandwidth to cover maximum use at any time, and would hire a local service representative for prompt customer service.

He also promised adaptability, “generational service that’d serve your kids and your grandkids,” and keep China attractive to businesses needing top-grade internet.

Ouellette reminded committee members that they need to strike a balance between maximum service and minimum cost. Axiom is a profit-making business, and he expects to make money in the long run.

For now, Ouellette is satisfied to work with CBC members and the rest of the town on a handshake agreement. He told CBC members, “I’ll get my payment when I start to serve [China] customers with the best internet you can get in the world.”

Committee members agreed their next step is to publicize what they are doing and why they are doing it. They began planning an education campaign to discuss with town voters the advantages of superior broadband service for residents and for the local economy.

Ouellette and committee members cited several advantages: every resident’s ability to work from home, whether required by the pandemic or not; extras for local businesspeople, like the auto mechanic who could have Axiom help him install and maintain free WiFi in his waiting room; and the potential to attract a major institution, like a research laboratory, that would provide jobs and pay taxes.

One suggestion was to prepare a question-and-answer document to cover anticipated questions about services, costs and anything else they can think of. Another was to hold a series of community meetings, in person if conditions permit. Ouellette is willing to help, including joining committee members in an informational work session with the selectboard if one is scheduled.

CBC members also intend to draft a letter of intent or similar document with Axiom, an agreement that gives both parties increased certainty, though either party can withdraw if negotiations fail.

The next CBC meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25, and the one after that for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 1. Ouellette is unable to zoom in on March 25 but is expected again on April 1.

Vassalboro school leaders give cautious, optimistic report

Vassalboro Community School (contributed photo)

by Mary Grow

At their March 16 meeting, Vassalboro School Board members heard cautious optimism from three administrators. All three expect a gradual return to something closer to normalcy before the end of the school year.

For Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer, the state emphasis on vaccinating school staff is “a game-changer.” For Principal Megan Allen, the revised national CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guideline allowing students’ desks to be three feet apart, instead of six feet apart, will allow more in-school instruction.

Saying Vassalboro Community School (VCS) will “reopen” is the wrong wording, Pfeiffer said, because the school hasn’t closed completely, except for a few brief intervals. However, more students will spend more time in the same room with their classmates and teachers.

The CDC requires students and adults to be masked. The new rule does not apply where masking is impossible, as in lunchrooms, where six-foot separation is still required; and adults are expected to continue to stay six feet apart.

Allen said how many students return for how long will depend on class and classroom sizes. About 55 students have chosen to learn fully remotely, she said, and one of her goals is to make sure they do not lose out as classroom education is re-emphasized. She hopes there will be space for them to rejoin their classmates for the last few days of the school year, if they want to.

Assistant Principal Greg Hughes said winter sports, basketball and cheerleading, will continue through March. He expects to start baseball and softball indoors with students remaining in their cohorts, to mingle groups when play moves outdoors and perhaps to resume games against other schools.

Pfeiffer will not be surprised if there are more federal and state policy changes before the semester ends.

The superintendent expects more than $500,000 in new stimulus funds. Part of the money will be used for “learning recovery,” additional time and additional staff to help students make up for what they were unable to learn under pandemic conditions.

Looking to the 2021-22 school year, Allen said if there is enough interest, a second pre-kindergarten class will be added. The class would need a teacher and an aide, increasing personnel costs; but, Finance Director Paula Pooler added, the state subsidy would also increase.

School board members reviewed the regular education section of the proposed 2021-22 school budget, which is projected to increase as it does every year with salary increases, new equipment and program adjustments. They did not review the proposed special education budget. Because their budget review was unfinished, the planned March 23 meeting with the town budget committee was canceled.

The next regular Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 13, a second Tuesday rather than the usual third Tuesday to avoid meeting during school vacation week.